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EA takes on Steam with new ‘Origin’ service

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Battlefield 3 - EA

EA is digging deeper into the digital distribution space.

The company has completely revamped its online store, expanding its focus and renaming it 'Origin' in the process. The move will put EA in direct competition with Valve Software's dominant Steam service -- and, in some ways, Apple's GameCenter.

A "direct-to-consumer gaming platform," as the company calls it, isn't anything new for EA. It's had an online store open for a while, but it hasn't been a primary focus. With the release of several big-budget PC games looming, however, EA is making it a priority.

Origin will be the only place you'll be able to download Star Wars: The Old Republic, Battlefield 3 and Alice: Madness Returns. It's a bit unclear, though, if the company will continue to sell its older titles through Steam as well as Origin. Right now, they're available on both services.

To build interest in the service as development continues on those titles, Origin will launch today with 150 titles. And next week, during E3, EA says it will release trailers and content for several of its new games exclusively to Origin as well.

Beyond using Origin as a download service, EA plans to position it as a social hub for gamers, letting them connect with friends lists and see what game friends are playing at any given time - a feature Steam currently offers.

It's also covering its bases by letting people buy physical copies of console (or PC) games from the site -- but don't expect to save anything by buying direct. For new titles, the price will be comparable to what you see in retail stores, and might actually be higher if stores opt to use new hot games as loss leaders. And, so far, at least, EA's digital games in Origin aren't priced any better than the titles the company offers through Steam.

Origin will also have a mobile application, letting users access their profile and connect and play with friends using EA's collection of mobile games. That might indicate why the company has so far bypassed using Apple's GameCenter in its growing collection of mobile games.

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